GAO Report Cites Problems With Effort by Federal Government To End Illegal Prescription Drug Imports
U.S. consumers import a "substantial and increasing" amount of illegal prescription drugs, but "very limited" information exists to help federal regulators intercept shipments of addictive medications or other treatments that could have safety risks, according to a report released on Thursday by the Government Accountability Office, the Washington Post reports. Almost all prescription drugs purchased from pharmacies abroad are illegal under federal law because such pharmacies operate outside of U.S. regulations, but several state and local governments have enacted legislation that allows the practice.
The report -- requested by Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.), chair of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, and Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee -- said that millions of shipments of prescription drugs are imported into the U.S. annually, although the exact number remains undetermined. Estimates submitted to Congress have ranged from two million to 20 million shipments of prescription drugs imported into the U.S. annually, the Post reports.
The effort to end shipments of prescription drugs into the U.S. is a "complex undertaking," and, although a task force formed last year by U.S. Customs and Border Protection to study the issue "appears to be a step in the right direction," more specific priorities and benchmarks are required, according to the report.
Coleman in a statement said that "efforts to work cooperatively between the various agencies and to engage the private sector have been lacking," which has led to a "virtual black market for controlled prescription drugs and bootleg pharmaceuticals" on the Internet.
In addition, Dingell said in a statement that, "while rogue Web sites continue to send their drugs into the U.S. with impunity, the agencies most responsible for stopping this chaos are completely out of ideas" (Flaherty, Washington Post, 11/10).